New Jersey Governor and potential GOP presidential contender Chris Christie spent nearly two hours on Thursday trying to preserve his carefully-tailored image as a forceful leader while repeatedly asserting that he was unaware of a senior staff member’s involvement in the politically-motivated closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey and New York.
Christie, a leading Republican contender for the presidential nomination in 2016, faced dozens of questions from reporters and answered most of them directly. But left unanswered was a question Christie raised himself.
“How did this happen?” the governor asked.
The question goes to issues virtually guaranteed to haunt Christie for the remainder of his second term as governor and throughout the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
How did Christie, as governor, come to preside over an office culture in which a senior staff member would believe that creating a crisis that left thousands of his state’s citizens – including schoolchildren and emergency responders – stuck in massive traffic jams over the course of four consecutive days last fall was an acceptable form of political payback?
How could Christie himself fail to question the legitimacy of a so-called “traffic study” that practically closed a major interstate artery for most of a week?
Christie said that he accepted ultimate responsibility for the effective shutdown of the George Washington Bridge in September, which caused havoc in the town of Fort Lee. However, he emphatically distanced himself from the planning or execution of what he referred to as a “rogue political operation.”
He said that he only learned of the involvement of senior staffer Bridget Kelly at 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and that she had been fired effective Thursday morning. Christie also fired his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and forced him to withdraw his consulting contracts with the Republican Governor’s Association, which Christie heads, and to remove his name from consideration as head of the New Jersey Republican Party.
Christie repeatedly characterized the scandal as a personal betrayal by a close aide that left him “embarrassed and humiliated.”
“It’s incredibly disappointing to have people let you down this way,” he said.
The governor said that he would be traveling to Fort Lee today to apologize personally, and promised to cooperate with ongoing investigations into the bridge closure.
At the same time that he was nominally accepting responsibility, Christie took pains to note, “I have 65,000 people working for me every day. I cannot know what each of them is doing.” He also said, “I delegate enormous authority to my staff. There’s no way that anybody would think that I know everything that’s going on.”
Asked whether the revelation that his staff had spearheaded the bridge lane closures lends credence to the image some paint of Christie as a “bully,” the governor – who recently berated a reporter who asked about the bridge closures as an “idiot” – said that it did not.
“I am not a bully,” Christie said. - Follow Rob Garver on Twitter @rrgarver
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